R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 3 of 3

Berry thought about calling Greta by her given name.  “Oh, no.  I couldn’t do that.”

“I am Han’s sister,” she reminded her.  “And if you marry Hans, that will make me your sister, too.  Call me Greta.”

“You mean, I have your permission to marry Hans?”  She got excited.

“I said “If,” Greta said, but then she had some insight as to how it would look.  When Hans became a man of eighteen, Berry would still look thirteen.  Even if Hans should live to be seventy, Berry would still only look fifteen or at most sixteen.  She would have to think about that.

This time Berry got quiet, so Greta completed her earlier thought.  “Calling me lady makes me feel so old.  Call me Greta.  I’m not that old.  Or maybe Lady Greta, as I said.”

“Oh, Lady Greta.” Berry turned suddenly serious. “He loves you so very much.  I wish Hans loved me like that.”

“Darius?” Greta asked.  Berry nodded. “I wish.”

“But he does. I can tell,” Berry insisted.

“No sweet,” Greta countered.  “He will do his duty to Marcus and Rome.  He is a soldier.  Marcus just wants to make sure my father stays loyal to Rome, that’s all.  It is all political, and besides, I think he really loves someone else.”

“No way,” Berry said.  “He looks at you with zombie eyes.”

“Zombie eyes?”

“That’s what Mab calls it.  It means he has no will of his own.”

Greta laughed at her own thought.  She made a spooky face.  “Resistance is futile,” she monotoned.  Berry laughed, too, but Greta knew Berry had no idea to what she referred.  They indulged a little in the breakfast sweets.

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day,” Greta said, absentmindedly.

“I know that story.”  Berry perked up.  “Were you the Queen of Hearts?”

Greta laughed again.  “No, sweet,” she said.  She remembered, though she was not sure which life she lived at the time.  She decided it did not matter.  “Aphrodite.”  She named the Queen of Hearts.  “She made them for Hephaestos on their two or three thousandth anniversary or something. Cupid stole them.  Hephaestos found out, and let’s just say Cupid promised never to do that again.”

Berry’s eyes got big.  “Lady goddess.  You shouldn’t tell me stories like that if you want me to call you Greta.”

“Don’t worry,” Greta said.  “Take me out of Usgard and the company of my little ones, and you will see.  Even as the woman of the ways, I have very little real magic.  Hardly any at all.  You will see how human and mortal I really am, and it won’t be a problem calling me just plain Greta.”

“Hans called you Gretal once, like you were just a baby.”  Berry giggled, and tried to picture Greta as a baby.

“Oh, he did, did he?”  She pretended to be upset.  “Hansel!” Berry giggled again, and Greta thought Berry had better grow up some.  Sixty years of that little girl giggle would drive anyone crazy.  “Time to go.’

“Oh, wait.” Berry got little and flew around the room, touched everything and did several back flips and fancy dives along the way.  When she flew real fast, she even left a little fairy trail, though only light, without the sparkles.  It appeared a meager thing, but a true sign of her quarter blood.  Then she settled on her feet again.

“Mab was nice,” Berry said, and Greta knew they would never be the best of friends.  “But she was not impressed until she found out I had a twin sister.”  Greta nodded. Twins were a very special thing in the spirit world.  “We looked at her twice in the Pool of Reys, and once in the Looking Glass, but she was always sleeping.”  Greta nodded again.

“Time to go,” she repeated herself.

“But can we come back again?” Berry quickly asked.

“Someday,” Greta said, and then she tried to explain that two days and three nights had gone by on Usgard, while back home the same night they left just came to a close. Berry did not understand, so Greta concluded by saying, “That was why Fae was always sleeping when you spied on her.”

“We didn’t spy. Not really,” Berry said, even while she realized that spying was exactly what she had been doing.

“Well anyway,” Greta said.  “It will all straighten out when we get there.  I want you and Hans with a troop of guards to go over and visit Fae, and stay there.”  Greta decided that if there was going to be a battle, they would be safest where they could hide in the woods if need be.  It also seemed one way to keep them all out of her hair for a while.  She would be busy.

Greta picked up her statuette and examined it closely.  The dolphin had its’ mouth open to sing.  The bear reared up and roaring.  The cat had a roar of its’ own going, and the horse, standing on the rest, looked still.  Greta pushed gently on the horse’s tail and the horse reared up and its’ nostrils flared. She opened the window.  “All right.”  She thought to the distant sprites, and four dashes of light penetrated each of the four animals.  Greta thought to try the contraption once more.  She pushed down.  The horse reared up and a young fire sprite named Scorch stuck his head out of the horse’s nostrils and eyes.

“Fancy cigarette lighter.”  Greta called it.  “Be good. Be careful,” she told them all.

“All set.” The hollow echo of their voices came back.

The eastern horizon started getting bright at last.  The sun looked moments from rising.  Greta raised her hand, and the door appeared right there in the room. She opened it and saw Darius jump up from the floor.  The guards he had posted, one Dacian and one Roman, stepped up, drew their swords and peeked around the door to be sure there were no more beasts in the other room.

Greta stepped through with the statue and Berry followed with a handful of tarts.

************************

MONDAY

Returning from the rarefied atmosphere of Avalon is just the first step.  Greta needs to find out how things are progressing.  Where is the legion?  How many germanic Quadi invaders have shown up?  And what  do the Romans plan to do about the rebels fortified on the temple mount? And what about the guns?… Monday, Connecting the Dots.

Until then, Happy Reading

 

 

*

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 2 of 3

Greta looked up to see her escort of friends and the craftsmen waiting patiently.  They all stared at her, and she knew why. With each thought, she had been a different person of the Kairos.  She had been a different Traveler and without even realizing it.  She became Greta again, but she imagined the whole process had been something to watch.  It seemed something to experience.  She never skipped a beat in her thought processes.  It felt like she was only one person doing all of that thinking, which, of course, she was, regardless of who she appeared to be, outwardly.

“Master Burns,” she said.  “I need four fire sprites for a dangerous mission.  I cannot guarantee survival, so it must be purely voluntary.  If there are not four, I will understand.”  She outlined her problem and her plan to the craftsmen, and when she finished, Lord Madwick answered her.

“No problem with volunteers,” he said.  “Far too many, I would imagine.”  That settled things.

Greta made Berry come home for supper, even though Berry protested, vigorously.  She made Berry get big and get into her own bed to sleep.  Berry whined her teenage best, but barely hit the pillow before she fell fast asleep. It had been a long, tiring day.

Greta spent a little time trying to imagine what her confrontation with Lady Brunhild might be like, but soon enough, she too slept, and she rested.

In the morning, Berry had gone.  It took no insight to realize that she got up in the middle of the night and snuck out to frolic with her new friends under the moon.

That morning, Greta had a bite to eat in her room, and then she sat in the tub long enough to wizzle her toes while several elf maids made a fuss over her.  They painted her nails, trimmed her brows, fixed her hair, even added some fairy braids, and fixed her face just so.  Greta tried the mirror.  The elfs could do magic on nearly anything, but even they could not make her beautiful.  There did not seem to be much they could do about her freckles, either, so she stretched her fairy cloth to cover her shoulders and shaped it until it resembled the style of dresses she felt used to wearing.  She did indulge herself a little by making the dress conform a bit to her young figure rather than let it fall in the frumpy, one-size-fits-all pattern of her people.  She was just seventeen after all, even if she would soon be an old married woman.  She reminded herself that she had no room left in her life for childhood.  She was the woman of the ways.  She was a goddess to her little ones.  She was the Traveler in Time, the Watcher over History, and the Dacians got guns, and the Romans wanted them.  When she finally left her room, she felt older than time.

Lunch could have been an all-day affair, but Greta’s statuette got ready by one and she went immediately to examine the handiwork.  It proved very hard metal, and fireproof, and yet Greta thought it would have been extremely light if they had not studded it with gold and bits of emeralds, rubies and diamonds.  She decided it appeared a bit ostentacious, but then again, that might make it acceptable to Lady Brunhild.  She struck Greta as the kind of woman who went in for that sort of thing.  She felt sure at least the Priest, Vasen would appreciate it.

Greta toured another couple of guard posts in the afternoon.  Greta noticed that each home for a sprite in each place looked different. The craftsmen kept trying to make things appear as natural as possible and not make it appear as if they were guard posts at all.  For the water sprites, for example, one place had a fountain, a second, a simple fish pond and a third, a bubbling spring.  Greta praised the work.  She knew that would be important to hear praise from their goddess.  She felt glad it was easy to do.

During their last supper on Usgard, Berry yawned the whole time.  Greta said she had to stay and sleep that night because they would be leaving very early in the morning.  Berry did not think that would be a problem.  She remained more human than not, after all, and her human side started catching up to her.  She said her good-byes to Mab and her friends while Greta said good-bye to the assembly. Then they went to bed and slept very well.

The elf maids woke up Greta around four in the morning.  They seemed to delight in fixing her hair, her face, and helping her dress.  Greta thought she still looked exceptionally ordinary, but it could not be helped. She thanked the ladies and got ready to wake Berry, when Mrs. Kettleblack came banging in.

“Breakfast,” she announced in a very loud voice, and Berry sat straight up.  “I got pastries and sweet tarts this morning,” Mrs. Kettleblack said.  She did not mean to be loud.  It was just her normal way.  Honestly, she did not know any other way.

“Morning?” Berry mumbled.  “It’s still dark out.”  That was not strictly true.  The eastern horizon showed a touch of light.

“Can’t leave on an empty stomach.”  Mrs. Kettleblack finished her speech.

“Thank you Mrs. Kettleblack,” Greta said, and the old dwarf laughed and shooed everyone out of the room.  Greta and Berry got left alone.

“These sweet tarts are good, Lady,” Berry said.

Greta looked at her while she took one to try.

“What?” Berry asked at last.  She did not appear comfortable being stared at.  The truth, however, was Greta was still not quite awake herself.  She stared at nothing in particular

“You have to stay big, now, when we go back,” Greta said.

“I know, Lady,” Berry said.  “As big as my Hans.”

That brought something to mind.  “Berry, sweet.  It won’t do to call me lady anymore, unless you say Lady Greta.”  She paused.  She didn’t even know Darius’ family name.

Berry spoke into the silence.  “But Lady Kairos.  I have to call you something, and everyone knows you don’t like to be called goddess.”

“So just call me Greta,” she said.

R5 Greta: And Back Again, part 1 of 3

Greta stood. “I am sorry this refuge is not also the sanctuary I intended.  In truth, I am only human.”  She paused while there were nods and smiles all around.  This had been what they wanted.  They all knew it when they picked her, and the Ancient gods in concert anointed her for this work, to watch over the little spirits of the earth. They wanted a god who routinely got old and had to let go of life.  They did not want an immortal over them.  Being mortal themselves, they wanted someone who knew what it would be like when that time came.

Greta placed her hand on Berry’s hand.  “I will speak with the craftsmen.  There may be a way, and thank you all.”  She hugged Thumbelin as a symbolic hug for them all.  Then she turned to Berry who sat quiet and big eyed.

“What did you like best?” She whispered.

Berry licked her lips.  “The Wafflies,” she said.  “And the Apple Cinammons.”

“Me, too,” Greta said, though in truth she thought it all tasted splendid. “Thumbelin.”  Greta spoke up.  “Is Mab here?”  Thumbelin nodded and pointed to the children’s table.  “My, she is quite grown,” Greta remarked.

“Nearly fifty,” Thumbelin said.

Greta called Mab to the table.  “Get little,” she told Berry.  Mab appeared shy in Greta’s presence.  She stood on the table with her head down.  Berry, who had only known Thistle as a fairy, felt quite taken with the girl. She immediately went to stand beside Mab.  Berry stood taller, of course, partly because she was older and partly because she had so much human in her, but Mab glowed beside her with true blood fairy magic.

“Will you take Berry as a friend and show her Usgard?” Greta asked.

“Lady.”  Mab curtsied as well as she could, but did not do a very good job of it.

“Stay on this island.  Don’t go to the other islands,” Greta added.

“And no tricksies.”  Thumbelin instructed her daughter.  “Or anything like tricksies.”

“Be good to my Berry, please dear Mab.”

Mab looked at a pensive Berry from beneath her hair.  Suddenly, she sprang out and took Berry’s hand.  “I will,” Mab said, and to Berry she added, “Come on.”  They took to the air.  “You won’t believe the strawberry field, and the high mountain slides, and the cascade pools for swims.”  And they were through the window, followed by a host of other young sprites.

“I worry about her,” Greta breathed.

“She will be fine,” Thumbelin said.  “Mab may be headstrong, but she is true to her word.  And I am sure your brother will be a very lucky man.”

“Your majesty is kind,” Greta told Thumbelin, but really, at that moment, Greta felt worried mostly about herself.  She felt no closer to knowing what to do about the guns than she had before she came.

“It was my goddess who gave me a heart and taught me what loving-kindness was all about.” Thumbelin found a tear, and Greta found one as well.  Once again, Greta felt she got far more out of the relationship than she could ever possibly give.

At the craftsman’s they made a lamp, a bubbling fountain and a wind catcher which is sometimes called a dreamcatcher.  They went out to the nearest portal and set them up.  Then they built a guardhouse underground.  Greta’s became concerned for the comfort of her little ones who might volunteer for the hazardous duty.  The craftsmen, however, were far more concerned with tricks and traps and every devious thing they could think of to catch and hold any possible creature or spirit from a three-day-old human to a near god.  Greta sighed.  The year was only around 145 AD, and henceforth, every road to Avalon would be heavily guarded.  Even Lord Sunstone, the elf wizard who spoke for the knights of the lance, offered his every last ounce of magic if needed to secure Avalon, the seven isles and the innumerable isles beyond.

Greta looked at the next set of homes.  They were a pool of water, small wind chimes to blow in the wind, and a lantern on a short pole.  Greta spent a long time considering the lantern.  She would never risk a fire sprite in the open, but they could certainly explode Kunther, or rather, Lady Brunhild’s plans.

“Trojan horse.” The words came to her, and she caught a glimpse of a man, a life she did not know.  Diomedes.  She lived his life among the Greeks at Troy.  The image faded, but the Princess and Diogenes picked up the notion and repeated the words with certainty.

“An idol.  A peace offering for the Temple on the Mount,” said the Princess.

“Something cast of the strongest metal with air holes and a charcoal center to sustain the sprites for a day or two if necessary,” Diogenes suggested.

“A bear for the Nameless god of the Dacians,” Nameless said.

“A cat of the mountains for Danna and the Celts,” Danna thought.

“Salacia’s dolphin for the Romans,” Salacia added.

“But then it needs something on top, something over all to represent the unity of the three.” Bodanagus said, being no stranger to bringing the houses of the gods together.  Gerraint and FestusCato shared the answer.

“A horse.”

“A horse to rear up.”

“A horse whose nostrils flare when it rears up.”

“But the horse might give it away.”

“But the horse is the right choice.”

“But can they survive?”  Doctor Mishka always considered possible injury.

“Attach a string to Avalon so the whole contraption will be hurled home.”  Those words came from the storyteller.

“Can I do that?” Greta wondered.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 3 of 3

By long standing tradition, meals were not to wait the arrival of the Kairos.  In fact, little of daily life changed when she was present, so little changed when she was absent, which became most of the time. All the same, Mrs. Kettleblack who had been cooking for the Kairos for nearly five hundred years, banged her wooden spoon on the urn when Greta came in, and everyone rose, including Lord Gotlieb, though he rose with two handfuls of food.  Still, he rose because he knew if he did not, Mrs. Kettleblack would have banged her spoon on his head.

Poor Mrs. Kettleblack, Greta thought.  The dwarf looked like she aged, and Greta felt sorry that even in the rarified atmosphere of the second heavens, her little ones still did not live forever.

“Buffett this morning.”  Mrs. Kettleblack announced.  “But any of my poppins will be glad to fetch.  Just be askin’ and we’ll be getting’.”  She pointed to a special place which had been set aside for Berry. Berry looked at her and Greta thought a moment.  She decided, no.

“Get big, please, Berry,” Greta said.  Berry paused to look around.  She had never seen so many full blooded, special little ones in her life.  She got big.  She felt very human and thought she might as well look it.  “She had better sit beside me this morning,” Greta concluded. The place at Greta’s right hand was empty at the moment.

“Good morning.” Thumbelin said, as they sat down.

“Good morning Thumbelin,” Greta said, and then she added, “Good morning,” generally to the crowd. Most responded, except a few, like Gotleib who had just stuffed his mouth full of eggs and sausage.

“Good morning sweet Berry,” Thumbelin added.

“Morning,” Berry said.  She got distracted, watching the young lady elves who looked like glittering young children of light.  They fixed plates for her and Greta with a little of everything, and they watched her, too, and giggled.

“For all of the magic that gave her little wings, she is still three-quarters human,” Greta explained.

“Oh, my sweet dear,” Thumbelin said, in a very sympathetic voice.  “That must be very hard for you, but I am sure it is a good thing, too.  Good will happen.  You will see.”

The two plates were delivered while Gotleib and an ogre Prince jostled for position in line so they could get twelfths.  Greta looked away, glad that the ogres had their own corner of the room, out of sight of most.  She did not want to look at one while she ate, and did not want to watch one eat.

“But you have the same things I have,” Berry said, which took Greta’s attention, and Greta thought she should explain.

“You see, Berry, I have never been here before, myself.  The last time I was here I was someone else.”

“Sheik Ali.” The Lord of the Rainclouds spoke up. “And a fascinating gentleman he was. I never knew much about the desert before, but now I see it is an intriguing world all its own, full of wonders and life.”

“Exactly,” Thumbelin brought things back to the point.  “But we have not seen our lord, now lady in twenty years.”

“But you got the same as mine,” Berry said, being very one tracked.

“But I have never tasted any of this before,” Greta said.  “Not with these taste buds.  I know what Ali liked, but I might not like the same things.”

“Uh-huh,” Berry said.  She did not really understand, but by then she got busy sampling.

“She is sweet,” Thumbelin remarked.

“Uh-huh,” Greta responded in the midst of her own sampling.  Then she thought to say more.  “Barring an unforeseen accident, she will probably end up my sister-in-law. I worry about her.”

Thumbelin and several others gave knowing smiles and nods.  “I thought it might be something like that,” Thumbelin confessed.

There were private conversations after that, but finally, when breakfast was nearly over, Lord Madwick could wait no longer.

“Lady Kairos, forgive this impatient spirit, but now that you have come we must do something about these unlawful intrusions into the realm.  With all due respect, the knights of the lance simply cannot be everywhere at all times.”  He sat down.

“What he means.” Lord Burns spoke without standing up. “The fire sprites are ready to guard all of the portals at your request.  There are more than enough volunteers to cover all known ways.”

“The ethereal spirits who have kindly taken the lance are insufficient in number.”  Lord Deepwell of the dark elves confirmed.

Greta looked around the room.  It was full of kings and queens, but these were not the rich and powerful as they would have been in a human assembly.  Instead, these made a righteous gathering as each of these spirits came acclaimed by their people as worthy to represent them in their affairs. Greta felt she did not come to Usgard often enough, but then, she always felt that way.

“My Lady.” Lord Zephyrus spoke.  “Do not think the children of the winds and the sprites of the sky are less serious about helping, even if the fire burns hottest.

“My Lady.” Lord Shoals spoke.  “Waters surround our home.  We are disappointed with ourselves.  Ours is the first line.  Ought to be enough.  We wish to do enough.”

“Lady Corallion?” Greta asked hoping she would explain what her husband just said.

“We want to help make Avalon safe, too,” she said.

“Us, too.” Princess Burntbottom spoke up from the ogre table.  The unfortunate child got born some sixty-six years earlier, during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Of course, as an ogre, she wore her disfigurement as a badge of honor.

“And us.” Everyone else chimed in, and Greta had to hold up her hands for silence.

“Lady Kairos.” The deep and eerie voice caused a hush. It was Lord Darkvein, the goblin king. “All of your people wish to help. It is gracious of you to provide this place of refuge and peace for us all.  The least we can do is help defend it from demons, unwanted.”

“It is decided,” Thumbelin said softly, and Greta frowned.  It got decided, as usual, without her having any say in the matter.

************************

MONDAY

Th visit to Avalon is not over, but at some point, Greta knows she and Berry will have to return to Ravenshold, and reality.

Next Week, look for “And Back Again”, same blog, same website.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 2 of 3

Berry became enchanted by the softest lawn, the brightest stars and most glorious moon she ever knew.  The trauma of the last few minutes went completely from her mind.  Greta turned to the knight who was in truth a knight, like something out of the latter Middle Ages, in full plate armor so that no flesh or anything else showed.  She knew immediately that the knights of the lance never spoke, so she voiced her thought. “Thank you.”  And then she realized that she knew a lot of things that Greta never knew.

Greta looked up toward the castle on the hill.  It was her tradition to enter the castle across the lawn and through the main gate to give the little ones inside time to prepare.  “Huh!”  She said to herself, but it felt like a comfortable word, not a curious one.  She felt more herself than she ever felt before, and she decided that in Usgard, she became more the Kairos, her true self that lived again and again, than any individual, given life, even though she remained the Traveler Greta more than any other Traveler.  “Huh!”  She said again, and she called for Branworth.

Branworth appeared nearby as she began to walk toward the castle, Berry in her train, and escorted by the remounted knight.

“Lady Kairos.” Branworth bowed.  “The knights of the lance have made wonderful progress in guarding the borders, but as you see, even they have not been entirely successful.”

“I would not call the front lawn before the Castle successful at all,” Greta said.

“No, my lady. You are right,” Branworth admitted. “But the knights are not nearly as numerous as the ways in and out of the land and the isles.  Since the cracks developed in the days of young Lydia’s difficulties, at the time of dissolution of the gods, even their sleepless vigil is not enough to guard all ways at all times.”

“So I see,” she said.  And she did see.  She did not condemn the effort being made.  Rather, Greta sounded grateful, and felt rather inadequate to guard even her small charge; to give the little ones a safe haven from the world.  “We will work on it, Master Branworth,” she said. “We will figure something out.”

Greta stepped up to the castle gate and felt overawed by the enormous size and complexity of the structure, even if she knew it as a small thing compared to the Great Hall of Valhallah, the Hall of Odin, or the home of her mother, the goddess Vrya. That is to say, Nameless’ mother.

“Lady Kairos.” Thimbelin arrived and she curtsied slightly.  Greta greeted her friend with a hug and a yawn.  She passed pleasantries with the Queen of the Fairies before she excused herself for the night.  She apologized to the fire sprites, Madwick and Burns, and said their concerns would have to wait until morning.  Then she led Berry to her own rooms where the mistress elves had already made up two scrumptious beds.  They had fairy cloth laid out, and Greta slipped into hers, grew it with a thought to a full-length nightgown and colored it pink before changing it to blue.

Berry spent a great deal of time in front of the full-length mirror, stretching and shaping her own clothes.  She changed the colors and tried dozens of patterns before she ended up very much where she began.  “It’s just no good,” she complained.  “I don’t have any shape.  No matter what I do, I still look like a stick.”

“You’ll have shape soon enough.”  Greta laughed as she curled up in bed, while Berry curled up on the window sill. “Don’t stay up,” she said. “Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

“But I want to have as much of the land of wonder as I can before we go home.”  Berry said.

“Don’t worry.” Greta yawned once again.  “There is time enough.  There is time.”  And she fell fast asleep.

Time under the second heavens, like everything else, is a relative matter.  They stayed two days and three nights in Usgard and Greta insisted that when they went home it would be the very next morning of the night they left, as she more or less promised Darius.  From the first morning, however, Greta felt rested and refreshed, like she came home at last.  She imagined no other word for it.

At some point in the night, Berry curled her small self up on the pillow next to Greta’s pillow and completely ignored the bed which had been made up just for her. Presently, she was lying on her face with her knees pulled up and her little butt sticking straight up.  Greta could not resist taking her finger and knocking her over.  Berry sat up. Her wings fluttered while she rubbed her eyes.

“I’m not awake yet,” she protested.  “Do I have to get up?”

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “It’s time for school.”

“School?” Berry’s eyes got big for a second before she snuggled down deep into the pillow.  “I can’t go to school today,” she said.  “I feel sicky.”  She pretended to sleep some more, while Greta got up and looked in the mirror.  She needed that bath and the time to wash and dry her hair; but then she did not want to keep Mrs. Kettleblack and all of the others waiting, especially on the first morning.  The sun had already gotten up and that seemed late enough.

Greta went to the mirror and shaped her fairy cloth into a plain brown dress such as she might have worn at home.  Then she decided that she was only seventeen, so she shortened the dress to knee length, then shorter, and got it as short as pixie length, and almost as tight.

“Too muchy,” Berry said, and made a face.  Greta sighed. She made plain shorts and a simple T, with sandals for her feet.

“Ready for breakfast?”  She asked quickly before Berry made her wear something ultra-boring.

“Breakfast?” Berry fluttered up and hovered about two feet above the pillow.  “I thought we were going back.”

“Not just yet,” Greta said.  “I think we will stay a while.”

Berry zipped around the room in excitement and then followed Greta out the door.

R5 Greta: Usgard Above Midgard, part 1 of 3

Greta went to the city that evening, escorted by Sergeant Gaius and an honor guard of Romans and Dacians.  They had a feast in the banquet hall of the Roman fort.  Fae stayed with her people at the outpost, but Hans went with his sister. He felt well recovered, being young, and since he went, naturally Berry went too.  Greta did not even have to insist.

Greta thought she ate less than Berry, and considering the size of Berry’s true stomach was smaller than a thimble, that said something.  Hans, on the other hand, got his old appetite back.  He ate with both hands, and Berry had a wonderful time feeding him.

The men argued about what to do.  In a way, it felt like being back in the village of the Bear Clan.  Greta’s headache did not feel improved by it at all.

Marcus looked up at her, concerned a little by her silence.  “Tell me, wise woman, what is your opinion on these matters?”

Greta just looked at him.  She suddenly felt very tired, and she yawned to prove it.

“Come now,” Marcus said.  “You came all this way and risked your life to cross the forest.  Surely you had a reason.  You must have something to contribute.”

“Sleep,” Greta said.  “There won’t be anything decided tonight that you won’t still be arguing about in the morning.  I intend to get a good night’s rest and take a fresh look at it all in the morning. Berry.”  She stood.

“Oh, please,” Berry said.  “One more potato.”

Hans pushed back from the table.  “No, I could not eat another bite,” he said, and Berry put down her potato, only a little disappointed.

“Hans, you need to get to bed, too,” Greta said.

Hans paused to look around the room, and then with an annoying tongue he said, “Yes, mother.” The men laughed.  Greta frowned, but Hans got up and followed without further protest.

There were rooms prepared for them in the fort.  Berry would be staying with Greta.  Hans would stay with Darius.  Berry had spent her own time in tears earlier in the afternoon, because four years was forever.  Perhaps because she had been worn so thin, when they reached their room, Berry curled up and went right to sleep.  Greta cleaned up, and then sat and thought and thought.  As tired as she felt, her mind would not let her rest.

It may have been as late as ten or eleven o’clock when she woke Berry.  Berry sat up, rubbed the sleepies from her eyes, and waited patiently for Greta to speak.

“Berry,” she asked.  “How do we get to Usgard?”

“My Lady knows the road to Avalon, certainly,” Berry said.  “I tried to find my way once, but all I did was get lost.”

Greta knew of Usgard, of course.  She knew all about it if she cared to think about it, but in some ways, it seemed like encyclopedic knowledge, lacking any real substance, and that being the case, it felt almost equally true to say she knew nothing about Avalon.  She knew she had to go there, but she felt reluctant to go alone, uncertain of what they would find once they arrived.  “Will you go with me?”  She asked.

“Yes.” Berry spoke with evident excitement. She grabbed Greta’s hand and said, “Let’s go.”

It would not be that easy, Greta thought.  Then again, maybe it would.  Greta and Berry stood and Greta simply raised her hand.  A doorway slowly formed at the back of the room by the window.  It took a moment to come into focus and solidify. Greta looked once at Berry before she reached out and opened the door.

Berry screamed. Greta screamed.  Two creatures attacked.  It took a few moments for them to cross the open lawn which appeared on the other side of the doorway.  They could see them clearly in the moonlight, and did not doubt their intentions. These were not like guard dogs. They were not Greta’s creatures. They did not belong there.  In retrospect, Greta should have closed the door, but at the time she stayed too busy screaming.  Another panic situation.  Even so, she saw the horseman in the distance, but feared he might be too far away to do anything.

The first creature leapt and Berry and Greta separated so it landed between them.  It turned immediately on Berry, but that became a mistake.  For the second time, Greta felt a power beyond reckoning surge through her.  She felt a bit like she had when, as Salacia, she stood in the eye of the hurricane.  She discharged.  The first creature collapsed and gave off the distinct smell of ozone and burnt fur.

The second creature hesitated.  It looked at Greta as if trying to remember something, or trying to figure something out. It took too long.  It had to turn because the horseman came upon it.  It growled an unearthly growl and leapt, but the horseman had a lance and knew his weapon well.  He caught the creature dead center, pushed through the door by his momentum and pinned the creature to the far wall, even as the bedroom door crashed open.  Hans ducked. Darius said something, but Greta could not hear.  He had a sword in his hand as did the dismounted horseman.  They made sure of both the creature on the floor and the one against the wall, then the knight went to one knee before his mistress. Greta looked away for most of the time. Berry, cradled in her arms, still screamed.  Then Greta moved suddenly, before she changed her mind.  She grabbed the knight by the arm and dragged Berry behind and through the door.

She turned to look at Darius.  “If you need me before morning, you can come fetch me, but only you.  No, Hans.  You must not come.”  She closed the door and left the facsimile of an actual door on the other side.

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 3 of 3

“My lord.” Berry interrupted.  “If you are going to marry my lady, it is important that I do what you say.  That makes you our lord, and all of us need to pay attention to what you say.”

“All of us?” Darius asked.  Greta took his arm again and turned him back toward the tents.

“I have a kind of special relationship with the little ones,” she said.  “It is kind of hard to explain.”  And she tried to explain as well as she could, doing everything in her power to avoid using the word, “goddess.”  She ended by begging him not to tell anyone, especially Marcus. “I know you and Marcus grew up together and you are very close, but I would be so afraid that Marcus might take advantage of them and they might end up slaves, or worse.”

“Marcus wouldn’t,” he assured her.  “But don’t worry.  I won’t say a thing.  This will be our little secret known only by you, me and Berry.”

They heard a wild party going on in the tent.  Baggins beat the drums and Fidget stroked his fiddle.  The visible Hobknot danced a jig and Fae clapped delightedly to the rhythm. Gaius stood by the door, also clapping, while Hersecles both clapped and tapped his feet.  Vilam kept bobbing up and down, keeping time.  Vedix and Cecil circled arm in arm like a couple of hicks at a square dance, while Marcus, worst of all, looked doubled up on the ground, laughing so hard he appeared to be in pain.

“Baggins!” The drums stopped beating. “Fidget!”  The fiddler stopped fiddling.  “Hobknot!” Greta did not sound happy. “Right here, right now!”  The little ones vanished and reappeared instantly outside the tent.  “You call that staying invisible?”  Greta turned on Hobknot.

“They were just passing by,” Hobknot said.  Even Darius rolled his eyes as he picked up on the fact that “Just passing by” was ten or twelve miles away.  “And I figured one more wouldn’t matter,” Hobknot went on. “There’s plenty of humans that think we all look alike, anyway.  Besides.”  He played his hole card.  “I haven’t been paid yet.”

“How would you like no teeth and have to mush the grain and take it through a straw?” she asked.

“Oh Lady, you wouldn’t,” Hobknot protested.

“Miss Fae is a frail, old woman,” Greta pleaded.  “I need someone with a brain to watch over her and tell me if I am needed. You claim to have a brain.”

Hobknot quickly changed the subject.  “Who’s the beef?”

“Lord Darius is my betrothed,” Greta said and reached for his hand though she did not really focus on Darius.

“Oh.” Hobknot got down on one knee and pulled the other two down with him.  “Great Lord Darius, on behalf of all the little ones from the Great Trolls of the mountains to the littlest of smidgens, I hereby pledge our eternal loyalty and devotion ‘till death do us part.  Your word is our command.”

“Ya-di, ya-di, ya-di,” Greta interrupted.  “You swell his head and you will get a lot worse than no teeth.  Now tell the truth.”

Hobknot stood up again.  “Of course, the odds are good we might not follow your commands, exactly, or even one for that matter.  We are all natural liars, you know, and good for nothing thieves, besides.  Hey!  I didn’t intend to tell him that.”

“I think I knew that already,” Darius said, and eyed the dwarfish imp with a look that was not fooled and not going to be fooled.

“Miss Fae,” Greta said.  “Or do I get someone else?”  Greta knew he really wanted to be with her, but he just was not going to make it easy.

“It’s a dirty job watching over that old bat,” he said.  “But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  I better do it myself.”  He walked back into the tent.

“Baggins and Fidget!”  Greta’s words thundered.  “You two helped Ragwart and Gorse keep my poor brother prisoner for three days.” This did not come out as an allegation. The goddess knew the reality, and they knew that she knew.  “Do you know what punishment they got?”

“Oh, no, Lady. Please not that,” Baggins began to weep. “The Mrs and the little ones. What will become of them? Anything but that.”  Then Fidget hit him on the head.

“They didn’t get no punishment,” Fidget said.  “In fact, the Lady gave them permission to steal some things.”

“That’s right,” Baggins suddenly perked up. “How did they get so lucky?”

“Do you want the same punishment they got?” Greta asked.

“Oh, no, please.” Baggins started again so Fidget hit him again.  “I mean, yes, please.”  Baggins finished.

“Then here is what you must do,” Greta said.  “Go over to the Quadi camp.  Take as many other musicians as want to go.  Throw a big party.  Keep the Quadi up all night dancing and singing.  Only one condition.  I don’t want you or any of my little ones to get hurt.  Do you understand?  Party all you want, only no little ones get hurt.”

“Party, but no one gets hurt.”  Baggins nodded.

Fidget stood and knocked Baggins on the shoulder to follow.  “Yes, ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.”  Fidget said quickly.  They bowed several times and vanished before Greta might change her mind.  Only three words floated back to their ears.  “We do weddings.”

Darius looked at her.  “I’m afraid to ask what that means,” he said, and he laughed; but to Greta it sounded like nervous laughter.

“What will they do to the Quadi?”  Marcus stood right there to ask.

“Probably not much,” Greta answered.  “Despite the bravado, they really have no interest in humans or human affairs. They will party.  I only hope it will keep enough of the Quadi up and prevent them from making a serious, full scale attack in the morning.  Give you and Darius another day to argue.”  Greta meant that as a joke, but Marcus looked serious and Darius looked at her with an uncertain eye.  Greta stepped into the tent and found Gaius and Vedix already beginning the arguments.

“Excuse me.” Darius said.  He stepped from the tent, found his horse, and rode back toward the city.

“What’s with him?” Marcus did not really ask.

“I have a terrible headache,” Greta said, and she went back to where she, Darius and Berry had spoken privately.  Damn it! It felt true enough.  She did love him.  And she had to cry about it because she felt sure he was lost to her.

************************

MONDAY

Greta needs to think.  The rebels have the guns and are fortified on the temple mount.  The Roman numbers are small for the moment, and the legion is days away. And the Germanic Quadi invaders are arriving in their thousands.  Greta needs to get away, to think.  She will go to Avalon, her real home, the home of the Kairos, or as she calls it her her Dacian tongue, Usgard above Midgard…

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 2 of 3

Fae was lying down and looked very frail.  Berry looked at a scroll, upside down.  Greta bent over to search for Fae’s pulse, and she heard Marcus.

“Now there’s a woman built to carry children,” he said.  It sounded like his way of suggesting she had a fat butt.  Greta turned slowly.  She pointed to the roof of the tent and Marcus foolishly looked. Her foot came down hard on his toes.

“Oaf.”  She called him.  “I’ll probably be as fat as Mama soon enough, and then even Darius won’t want to look at me and you boys can have all the fun you want.”  Marcus laughed a hearty laugh, and that did not make things easy.  Greta had to still her feelings.  There were important things to do.  She introduced Fae as the wise woman of the forest people.  It turned out Fae’s Greek was passable, and she even knew some Latin. Then she found out Sergeant Gaius knew Gaelic well enough to recognize most of the words in the local dialect. There were rough spots, but she knew they would work things out and she really would not be needed.

Greta sighed and stared at an invisible Hobknot to be sure he stayed good.  Then she went outside and took Berry with her for safe keeping.  Darius followed, until Greta turned to face him.

“You don’t like me much.  That is obvious,” he said.  He got military, blunt and formal.  “But I will be a good husband and never give you reason to complain.”

Greta shook her head.  To his surprise, she took his arm and walked him to where they could have some privacy. Meanwhile, Berry said nothing, but followed a few steps behind with big eyes and open ears.  “That’s not it,” Greta said.  “I like you well enough.  You seem to be a nice man, only I don’t know you very well.  I never imagined myself with a Roman.  It takes some getting used to, is all.”

Darius turned and placed his hands gently on her shoulders.  He smiled a little and she let herself be drawn up into his deep eyes.  “I can live with that,” he said.  “I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was one of your people, or I should say our people.  I understand. Maybe someday.” He did not finish that sentence and turned to another thought altogether.  “And, now that you mention it, I don’t know you very well either, I suppose.  I like what I see, and I suppose I am guilty of assuming the rest will be equally wonderful.”

Greta blushed a little, and she hated the way it made her freckles stand out.  She was not what she imagined as beautiful, and especially after so many days in the wild woods.  She imagined she looked frightful, but that mattered less than she thought as she finally began to understand her reluctance.  “But there are things about me that you know nothing about, and they are big and important things, and they would take a very special man to be able to deal with them, type things.”

He looked at her, and clearly wanted to reassure her that, whatever it might be, that he could deal with it.  But she knew he had no idea.

“There are things you need to know while there is still time to change your mind.”  She said, bluntly, and then for the life of her she could not imagine how to begin to explain.

After the longest time of silence, Darius took her hand and attention.  “Perhaps you could begin by telling me who this cute little shadow of yours is,” he suggested.

Berry sat on the ground to run her hand across the top of the grass.  There were all sorts of animals that grazed near the forest’s edge, so in spots the grass looke like a newly mowed lawn.  Greta pulled herself together.

“This is Berry.” She introduced her.  “She is my ward, and you had better get used to having her underfoot because she will be with me until she convinces me to let her marry Hans.”

Berry looked up at Greta with great big eyes.  “Really? Oh, thank you Lady.  Thank you, thank you.”  She scooted over on her knees and took Greta’s hand and began to kiss it.

“Berry,” Greta said softly.  “This man will be my husband so you had better get used to him, too.”

Berry looked first.  “I like him,” she said, and she scooted over and took his hand and began to kiss it. “Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you for giving me Hans.”

“Berry.” Greta spoke, and when she had the girl’s attention she finished her thought.  “You must wait four years.”

“Four years!” Berry fell over, nearly fainted dead away.

“Not before he is eighteen, don’t you think so?”  She looked at Darius.

“At least,” Darius said.  “But don’t you think Hans ought to have some say in the matter?”

Berry sat straight up.  “Why?” She asked in such a frank and innocent tone it seemed clear that she had never considered this thought before.

“I’m afraid he has no say in the matter,” Greta said.  She covered Darius’ mouth with her hand to stop him from speaking.  “You see, there are some things about me that you don’t know.  Big things.” Darius stayed wonderfully patient. “Berry.” Greta spoke at last, though she never let her eyes waver from his and the expression on his face. “Please come up to my shoulder.  I think there is a knot in my hair.”  Berry looked at Darius and tried to get up on her tip toes for a look.  “No, sweet.” Greta said.  “I mean get little.  It’s all right.”

Berry looked again at Darius and then flew straight to Greta’s shoulder.  Her head and hands went immediately into Greta’s hair and left only her wings and backside exposed.

“Great Gods!” Darius croaked, but then he stood there and watched.  He looked fascinated, and Greta felt glad he was not like so many humans who viewed the little spirits of the earth with fear and trembling.

“Hey!” Berry shouted, having forgotten all about Greta’s hair.  She turned and put her little hands on her hips.  “If you two are going to be married, what was that game you were just playing?”

“Traditional human mating ritual,” Greta said, without pause.  Darius hid his grin.

“Well I hope I won’t have to do that with Hans,” she said.  “I couldn’t remember all that foolish talk.”

Darius and Greta both turned a little red that time.  “That’s enough, sweet,” Greta said.  “You need to get down now and get big again.”

Berry did one back flip in mid-air and landed perfectly on her feet.

“I say.” Darius looked at Greta.  “But is it safe having her around?”

Greta shrugged. “Ask her.”

Berry spoke right up.  “Oh, I hope it will be safe.  I have been thinking about it and I am a little afraid of being around so many clunky humans all day, every day.  You will be there if I need help or get into trouble, won’t you?”

“Um, yes.” Darius said, though that was not what he had in mind.  He cocked one eyebrow at Greta, but this time she hid her smile.  “But now Berry,” he said.  “Will you be a good girl, and always be honest with us and do right away whatever we ask?”

“Yes I will,” Berry said, but then she thought about it and lowered her head.  “At least I will try very, very hard.”  She answered more honestly.

“Don’t expect too much,” Greta said.  “She is a teenager.”

Darius gave Greta a look and she stood up straight.  “Seventeen and a half.”  She lied. “But I feel so much older after these last couple of months.”  Darius nodded to that.

R5 Greta: The Way Things Are, part 1 of 3

Alesander explained things as they walked.  “Lord Darius said he saw you in a dream and was warned.  I don’t know about that, but when that man betrayed us and took fifty of your people with him, we were prepared.  We sent men secretly behind the ambush on the road.  We surprised them and thus came into Ravenshold.  After that, we got into a terrible, bloody battle in the city, but finally we broke through the siege on the fort.  Then, to our surprise, the enemy retired to the Temple Mount and left the city in our hands.

“Why would they do that?” Greta wondered.

“To avoid an even bloodier fight in the streets.  Apparently, their weapons are in the temple and they knew they would be safe there last night.  I see now, it was all that they needed.  Their Quadi allies began to arrive in the morning and already their tents stretch to the horizon.  They are camped outside the city on the far side of the Mount.”

“What of the legion?” Greta asked.

“Still three days out,” Alesander responded.

“Our numbers?” She asked to clarify her picture.

“We had three hundred Legionnaires and about an equal number of your people and auxiliaries when we left Boarshag.  Now, with the fort garrison and the city we have about six hundred Legionnaires, a thousand auxiliaries and maybe fifteen hundred Dacians.  I believe there are some who might have joined the rebellion but have come to our side to fight the Quadi.”

“Yes, I see,” Greta said.  “In many ways that was a wrong move on the part of the rebels.  Tell me about the weapons.”

“Well, as I said, they seem to be located in the Temple, but they are not the force I expected. There don’t seem to be very many of them, and they don’t use them much except to protect the Temple Mount.  So far, they have not really impacted the battle.”

“They are old.” Greta thought out loud.  “They were not well weather protected.  Most of the powder is bad and many of the guns are rusted.  They are probably a real disappointment to the rebels.”

“Maybe so,” Alesander said.  “But with the Quadi, they have ten to one numbers now, and even when the legion arrives, they will still have us better than two to one.”

“I figure you would think that was fair odds for you Romans.”  Greta smiled.

Alesander relaxed a little and that felt good.  She had to hit him with the important question.  “Lord Marcus send any captured weapons to Rome yet?”

“Yes.” Alesander got frank.  “Just this morning he sent two by courier, why?”

Greta stopped in the gate and almost closed her eyes before she realized Hobknot stood right beside her.

“Don’t worry.” Hobknot spoke in his invisible voice which only she could hear.  Bogus got them both, but he said it was more like twenty and a whole troop of guards.”

Greta heard Bogus in her own mind.  “And how come Hobknot’s getting paid?”

“Because he hasn’t jerked me around yet.”  Greta thought back, and Hobknot, who caught the thought, suddenly excused himself to attend to his duties.

“Are you all right?” Alesander asked.

Greta had a hand to her head and a sudden whopper headache.  “Yes, fine,” she said.  “Tell me about Darius.”  It really felt like the first thing she wanted to ask, but she thought she could slip it into the normal conversation so it would not appear too important.

Alesander did not get fooled.  “He has been beside himself all morning with worry.”  He said, and Greta felt her heart thump.  “He has been pacing around and driving everyone crazy, and as soon as the sun hit midday he wanted to take a troop into the forest to find you, but Marcus would not let him.”  Greta felt thrilled by what she heard, but she tried not to let on, even to herself. “All the same,” Alesander winked at her. “I am sure that would be how I would feel if my betrothed got lost in the Demon Woods, but if you tell him I told you all this, I will deny I said anything.”

“You stinker,” she said to him.  “You’re almost as bad as Marcus.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.  Now let’s see to those allies of yours.”

It did not take long to get everyone housed and settled into the tent camp at the outpost. Alesander said they should all stay in the city, behind the walls, but Fae and her people thought it best to stay as near the woods as possible, and Greta chose to stay with them.  She said that they were her particular responsibility, but in truth, the outpost was the forward position nearest the Temple Mount. That was where she had to be, though figuring out how she would get up the Mount, locate the guns and destroy them remained a problem.

Alesander gave up his command tent for the women.  He claimed he did not have much commanding to do at the outpost, anyway. The auxiliary tent next door was given to the three Celts.  They were appreciative, and Vilam most of all.  He had been on the hard end of several bargains with the Romans and he did not imagine they had a generous side.

Greta explained everything, more or less, to Alesander, only leaving out Hobknot, Danna and the little ones in general.  She told him all about Chobar including the assumption that he gave up the chase. She also assumed that the Celts would eventually send a body of men to the edge of the forest, but whether they would wait until the Romans, Dacians and Quadi devastated each other in order to take advantage of the aftermath, or whether they would come as allies, she could not say.

Then, Darius rode up, outpacing Marcus, Hersecles and a dozen others.  Greta stood in the doorway of the tent feeling the need for a bath.  She wanted to wash her hair, and maybe spruce herself up a bit.

“You look just fine,” Fae said from her bed in the corner.  She spoke as if she read Greta’s mind.

Darius jumped down and ran over.  He hugged her, hard, and held her as if not wanting to let her go.  Their lips touched, but then Greta found herself pulling back.

“I’m okay,” she said, and she turned away a little so he would not kiss her again.  “No need to make a fuss.  It’s not like we are already married.”

Darius took a half step back.  “I know,” he said, a bit too loud.  “I’m just glad you’re safe, that’s all.  Can’t I be glad you’re safe?”

“Of course.” Greta found her own voice rising. “And I’m glad you haven’t gotten yourself killed.  It wouldn’t be much of a wedding without you.”

“Or without you,” he said.

“So, fine,” she said.

“Fine.”

Greta felt in danger of turning color from frustration, anger, embarrassment, or who knew what.  She stomped her foot, spun around and walked back into the tent.

R5 Greta: To Ravenshold, part 3 of 3

Fae, meanwhile, stayed deep in conversation with the guide.  Hobknot started it.  “So, old woman,” he said.  “Plan on getting senile anytime soon?”  After that, Greta opted not to listen.  That left her to watch after the three men who became very confused about the way they were going.

“It feels sort of like hunting a bear,” Vedix said.  “All of a sudden the hairs rise up on the back of your neck because you realize the bear has circled around and is now hunting you.”  Hobknot lost even the hunter right from the start.

“I’ll say it again,” Cecil spoke up.  “If I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes I would call any man a liar.”  That seemed about all Cecil said.

As Greta listened, Vilam took a turn to be thoughtful.  “When your boyfriends left town,” he said.  “The image of Danna was still fresh in everyone’s mind and pleasing the goddess was all that we wanted to do.  By the time you returned, though, the image already faded, and some people began to wonder why they were thinking and doing what they were thinking and doing.”

“They were wondering what it was they had actually seen,” Greta concluded.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Vilam agreed.  “By the time Chobar finished speaking, some were determined to do just the opposite of what the goddess asked.”

“I think some of that was out of spite,” Vedix added.

“Spite or unbelief.” Greta said.  “The human heart and mind are amazing.  Even when presented with an undeniable reality, a plain and simple truth, it doesn’t take long to figure out how to deny the reality and believe the exact opposite is true.”

With that, Greta grew quiet and let her mind wander.  Festuscato buffaloed a bunch of ornery, stubborn men by ridiculing their differences and threatening them with the need to work together.  That wasn’t going to work with her Dacians, Romans, and Celts. Festuscato had all Celts, like cousins in a way.  Greta had the Federation trying to get along with the Klingons and the Romulans.

Greta did not know what might work.  By Gerraint’s day, it became more a matter of the old ways versus the new.  People were finding themselves in the awkward position where they had to choose.  The Celts here had a choice to make as well, but it was not old or new.  It seemed more a matter of seeing if Tara, Olympus and Aesgard could get along now that the gods had gone away.  Greta sighed and thought Christendom could not come soon enough.

They arrived at about two in the afternoon, and Vilam looked astounded.  He brought lumber to Ravenshold on a fairly regular basis and he knew how far it was.  “I did not think we would get here until afternoon tomorrow,” he said flatly, yet, there they were, peeking out from the trees, just minutes behind Drakka and the boys. A confusing sight greeted them. She saw Romans and perhaps a dozen of Greta’s people fighting more of her people and strange men with red designs on their tunics.  Greta turned her head.

She looked at the Temple Mount, a little to the West, which left an open space between the Mount and the city wall.  She also saw a wide and long, flat grassy meadow between the edge of the trees and the city, or the Mount, if they chose to go that way.  She saw where the spring from the temple cascaded down the mount in tiny waterfalls and bits of whitewater, and she followed the stream to where it entered the woods some hundred yards West of where they stood. She remembered that the Temple Mount sat on a great deal of water and that water pressed up under great pressure. In fact, the whole area was Germisara. She looked again to the Temple and saw Drakka going up the path with what looked like a prisoner.  Vilam tapped her arm and pointed, and she saw Rolfus and Koren surrendering to the Romans and being escorted from the field. She turned to the Celts.

“Shoot the ones with the red bears on their tunics,” she said.  Vilam and Vedix were ready, needing only a target, and Cecil quickly joined them.  Three arrows flew and one struck home.  Then Greta felt the Princess knocking on the door of time.  She stepped aside and let the Princess come through.

“Once again.” The Princess shouted and drew her own bow to the ready.  Vedix looked dumbfounded, but Vilam turned his head to the task and Cecil snickered. This time four, and then five arrows left the trees.  The Princess, gifted by Artemis herself and the best archer in her generation, firing a weapon made by Apollo, got off two arrows to their one, and both struck their targets perfectly.  A third arrow also hit home, and the enemy began to withdraw, to leave some space between them and the Romans.  A third volley saw four more of the enemy down and they moved off in earnest, under cover of a few wasted bullets as rifle fire came from the mount.

“Pay up, Lady.” Hobknot immediately appeared beside the Princess, tugging on her cape.  The Princess wanted to kiss his grubby little head the way Greta kissed Bogus the Skin earlier, but she knew Hobknot would have been terribly embarrassed with such a show of affection, so instead, she went home and let Greta return. Hobknot shrugged.  “Have it your way.  As I said, pay up, Lady.”

“You need to get invisible and protect Fae and Berry for a while until things are settled.” Greta spoke quickly.  Several Romans and Dacians were on their way to find out who aided them at that critical point.

“Not part of the deal,” he said, but he grinned when she looked at him with such pleading in her eyes.  “All right. But this will cost extra.”  He sauntered over to where Fae sat on a stump.

“I bet you would sell your own mother,” Fae said.

“I would not,” Hobknot insisted.  “But I might trade if the goods were right.”  Fae took the walking stick Hobknot had gotten her and clocked him on the head.  He did not seem to mind at all.

Greta turned her attention to her other worry.  “Berry!”  She shouted. Hans started walking out to meet the Romans and Dacians, and Berry, big, walked right beside him, holding his hand. They stopped.  “Berry, you stay with your sister,” Greta said.

“But lady,” Berry breathed.

“Come on.  I mean it,” Greta insisted.  Berry let go of Hans’ hand and came back looking very sad. Finally, Greta thought of herself. She let her armor go back to Usgard where she imagined it got kept and brought back her dress and red cape. They were clean and ready as she hoped, and in her heart, she thanked whoever might be responsible.  She wanted to look as presentable as she could.  She was not sure she wanted Darius to see her dressed to kill.  Besides, too many of her other lives knew all too well how to use those weapons, but she did not, and wanted to keep it that way.  It turned out to be the Centurion Alesander, and he knew Hans right away. When he saw Greta, he bowed slightly.

“My lady,” he said.  “It is not safe here.”

“Yes, yes,” Greta said, and introduced her Celts as people of the forest and allies.  Of course, they and the Romans could not understand each other at all, but two of the Romans worked well with Vilam and Cecil to make a litter with which to carry Fae.  They skirted the edge of the woods to keep as far away from the Mount as possible, until they came to a fortified outpost.  From there, they could see the city walls and almost see the road, but they were out of range of the guns on the Mount and for the most part, out of sight of the Temple.

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MONDAY

Greta needs to be brought up to date on what has happened to understand the way things are.  She has to keep Fae and Berry safe, and face Darius, even if Marcus Aurelius insists on looking over her shoulder.

Next time, “The Way Things Are”

Until then, Happy Reading

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